FeaturedNationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 21

Rising food insecurity

Pakistan has decided to import two million ton wheat to bridge the production shortfall. It fears a serious food crisis because of recent locust attacks and abnormal climate conditions.

In fact, the infestation may wipe out 40pc of Pakistan’s major crops. The crisis is so severe that the government has declared a nationwide emergency and appealed for help from the international community. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, Pakistan could suffer about $5b in losses if 25 percent of its crops are damaged. According to Bloomberg, swarms of locusts spreading across Pakistan are emerging as a bigger threat to the economy than the coronavirus pandemic, with the pests threatening farm output, livelihoods and food security. The locust-invasion now covers an area of 57 million hectares in a country with a total crop area of 23 million hectares, it said, quoting officials at the Ministry of Food Security and Research.

Lockdowns and other movement restrictions are exacerbating existing food crises in the Middle East and potentially creating new ones, a group of United Nations agencies has warned. A joint statement from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Food Program (WFP), World Health Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) detailed the negative impact of the coronavirus on household incomes, food supply chains and school meals. “Measures needed to slow the transmission of the disease are resulting in hardship for many vulnerable families. Current circumstances may aggravate the already difficult situation that many families face in accessing affordable quality diets,” they warned. Nearly 110 million people across the region are undernourished, with Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen especially hard hit by food shortages. The coronavirus outbreak has forced many to compromise on the quality of their food. The report notes that people are spending more time at home, and as a result, eating more prepackaged, processed foods. More than 17 million students in the region have lost access to school meals, which for many was their only meal of the day. In Yemen, nearly 20 million people — two-thirds of the population — are food insecure, including more than 2 million children who are acutely malnourished. The WFP in Yemen, which was forced to halve the number of its aid deliveries in the Houthi-held north, is appealing for $870 million to continue its food assistance programs.

Food insecurity is also on the rise in Afghanistan, where more than half the country lives below the poverty line. As Pakistan sealed its border over coronavirus concerns, aid organizations reported key commodities getting held up at the crossing, including 577 metric tons of food in April. A fuel crisis, economic uncertainty in neighboring Lebanon and a plummeting Syrian pound have caused food prices in war-torn Syria to soar to their highest level ever recorded. In the past year, the cost of basic food items has increased by 107pc, the WFP said. The UN agencies called on international donors to support food supply chains currently disrupted by border closures and movement restrictions, and for regional governments to prioritize feeding children, infants and breastfeeding mothers.

As the pandemic continues to threaten health and food systems around the world, the 2020 Global Nutrition Report calls on governments, businesses and civil society to step up efforts to address malnutrition in all its forms. The pandemic has exposed the weakness of food and health systems, disproportionately impacting already vulnerable populations. As inequalities and malnutrition continue to sweep the world, the 2020 Global Nutrition Report stresses that the need to address malnutrition in all its forms by tackling injustices in food and health systems is now more urgent than ever.

An additional 6,000 children could die every day from preventable causes over the next six months as the pandemic continues to weaken health systems and disrupt routine services. The UNICEF estimate is based on an analysis by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Based on the worst of three scenarios in 118 low- and middle-income countries, the analysis estimates that an additional 1.2 million under-five deaths could occur in just six months, due to reductions in routine health service coverage levels and an increase in child wasting. These potential child deaths will be in addition to the 2.5 million children who already die before their 5th birthday every six months in the 118 countries included in the study, threatening to reverse nearly a decade of progress on ending preventable under-five mortality. Some 56,700 more maternal deaths could also occur in just six months, in addition to the 144,000 deaths that already take place in the same countries over a six-month period.

Besides fears of food shortages, Pakistan also faces worst malnutrition in Pakistan, which is a complex, multisectoral problem that presents across a continuum of poor nutrition, from under-nutrition due to deficiencies in energy, protein, and micronutrients to problems of overweight, obesity, and non-communicable diseases, resulting from poor quality, energy-dense and micronutrient-poor diets and low physical activity. Over the last decade, Pakistan’s progress in child malnutrition has not been encouraging. The latest National Nutrition Survey (NNS) conducted in 2011 has shown a Global Acute Malnutrition (wasting) rate of 15.1pc, higher than the 13pc figure of the previous NNS 2001; disaggregate wasting rates in the urban and rural populations were 12.6pc and 16.1pc respectively. More than 30pc of children are underweight; 44pc are stunted, and 49pc of women are moderately anemic. More than half of children under the age of five are anemic, and 39pc of children are zinc deficient.

A recent flour crisis and shortages of vegetables have highlighted rising food insecurity in Pakistan. Almost half of Balochistan’s households face mild to severe food insecurity. Of the 36.9pc food insecure households in the country, 18.3pc face severe food insecurity. The United Nations has also warned that hunger is rising in the world. The situation demands urgent action from the government. Besides ensuring supplies, it will also have to improve the quality of food.